Mar 292017

An interesting feature of Power Spectral Density (PSD) graphs of EEG recordings is the peaks that sometimes appear in the spectrum. Below are two examples of spectra with peaks:

PSD lb S23

In both graphs, we note that power density varied across the beta band, manifesting itself as peaks. In the upper graph there is a double peak near the top of the beta band, around 28-30 Hz. In the lower graph, there is an additional peak near 17 Hz, as well as a strong peak near the boundary of the theta and alpha bands (about 8.5 Hz). Using only the absolute mean power across either the theta or alpha bands would not have done justice to the size of this peak.

While the best way to capture the significance of the peaks would be to mathematically integrate the Power Spectral Density over the width of the peak, this could be a challenging undertaking. I chose instead to do a semi-quantitative analysis using visual inspection of each PSD graph, along with a graphical key to assign a score from 0 to 3 indicating the “prominence” of the peak. A score of zero means that there is no peak, a score of 3 indicates a very strong peak and scores 1 and 2 correspond to intermediate conditions. The key was built using screenshots of PSD graphs from the sample.

Key for scoring alpha and beta peaks:

key for scoring peaks

Alpha peaks consistently appeared around 7-12 Hz. The beta peaks I was interested in were near the top of the beta band 26-32 Hz. I scored each graph and plotted the values for beta (front sensors) and alpha (back sensors) vs hours of meditation experience:

peak beta lf vs hrs peak beta rf vs hrs


peak alpha lb vs hrs peak alpha rb vs hrs

While these plots suggest that the most prominent peaks (score=3) occur for practitioners with several thousand hours of meditation experience, they show that less prominent peaks can also be associated with extensive meditation practice.

This part of the investigation suggests that prominent (scored as 3) beta peaks in the front and alpha peaks in the back appear among more experienced practitioners but not among novices. On the other hand, there are also experienced meditators who do not show the prominent peaks. So we cannot say that we have found a definitive ‘signature’ of zazen meditation.

Mar 062017

Recently during meditation at home just before bed, I have noticed that I sometimes start feeling sleepy midway through the period and start losing count of my breaths. To monitor this, I made it a practice to clench my jaw briefly whenever I lost count and had to return to “1”. The jaw clench serves as a convenient way to register an event in the EEG signal, as the Muse headband automatically records jaw clench events. In addition to recording EEG, I also recorded my breathing and synced the two signals together. The spectrogram below shows the EEG signal from the left front sensor. Superimposed are the (blue) breath and (red) jaw clench signals.

Highly rhythmical breath, alpha band signal (8.3 Hz) and no loss of breath count during the first 10 minutes.; irregular breathing, missing alpha band signal and loss of breath count (indicated by jaw clenches) during the final 10 minutes.

This same phenomenon occurred on four different dates, recorded just before 9:00 pm on February 9, 10, 11 and 15, 2017. I had been looking for correlates in the EEG signal to the experience of losing my focus on counting the breath. I was surprised to find such a dramatic change in breathing pattern whenever I began to lose count. The graphs below show the alpha power at the left back sensor (TP9) in green, the respiration signal in blue and jaw clench events in red.

To examine the EEG signal differences between sleepiness and zazen, we average the absolute power values of the five standard bands for the corresponding segments at locations lf, rf, lb and rb. Results are as follows:


First we notice that at the rear sensors lb and rb, the alpha signal is stronger during zazen compared to sleepiness. At the front sensors, the story is different: beta and gamma power is stronger during sleepiness compared to during zazen, but interestingly this only seems to be happening at on the left side, at sensor lf.

Mar 052017

A young meditation practitioner (26-year-old, female) joined the September 2016 7-day sesshin at Tahoma Monastery. She had some previous meditation experience, but this was her first time training with Shodo Harada Roshi. Her brainwaves were recorded once while not meditating, and on three occasions while doing zazen. Between September and February, she averaged 4 hrs/day of meditation practice. Recordings were made on:

Sep 7, 2016 – sitting quietly, but not meditating
Sep 7, 2016 – zazen before September osesshin (~600 hours previous meditation experience)
Sep 17, 2016 – zazen after September osesshin (~50 hours additional meditation)
Feb 22, 2017 – zazen after February osesshin (~1300 accumulated hours of meditation experience)

The following features stand out:

  1. Peaks in the alpha band, recorded at the left rear electrode (TP9) grow stronger with each subsequent zazen period. While not evident in the recording of the non-meditative condition, these peaks appear more pronounced in each successive meditation recording.
  2. The frequency of eye blinks while meditating is much less than when not meditating. In addition, there seems to be a trend of decreasing eye blink frequency with greater meditation experience.
  3. At the front sensors (FP1 and FP2) there seems to be growing power in the higher frequency (beta and gamma) bands relative to a lower frequency band (theta) with greater meditation experience.

Peaks in the alpha band become more prominent with zazen practice

First, let us examine the Power Spectral Density charts at the left back sensor (TP9) .

When subject is not meditating, there is no significant peak in the alpha band.

In the first recording, subjects were instructed to meditate for 20 minutes, then to stop meditating for 5 more minutes. When asked if she was able to NOT meditate during the final five minutes, the subject said,

“I think so. I was just trying to think really fast about anything, about things I was trying to remember, to remember things, to recall. And then the whole time I was just making stuff up.”

Small peaks are visible in the alpha band during zazen meditation (before osesshin)

At the end of the period, the subject remarks,

“That was really hard. It made me nervous.”


The next recording was made a week later, at the end of osesshin.

Alpha peaks begin to appear after the osesshin.

Investigator: Have you noticed a change in the quality of your meditation during week?

Subject: Definitely. Completely. I feel like I kind of earned how to meditate, actually. I don’t know. It’s not like I haven’t done it before. But now it’s starting to click now.

Investigator: Was there a kind of a key idea you that you used, or a technique you adjusted to do it?

Subject: Learning how to relax.

Investigator: How to relax?

Subject: Yeah. That’s really hard for me.

The final recording was made 5 months later after a second osesshin. The subject had practiced meditation about 4 hours per day in the intervening time.

Two distinctive peaks appear in the alpha band (5 months after the previous recording).

Investigator: How has this sesshin been going for you?

Subject: It’s been going up and down.

Investigator: How about this particular sitting right now?

Subject: I couldn’t really get into the breathing like I wanted. I couldn’t fully relax. Physically, sitting is still hard for me.

Investigator: So with your breathing, what were you aiming for?

Subject: Comfortable. Something more round. Sort of, that doesn’t feel so forced.

Investigator: But you weren’t finding that in is this round?

Subject: I didn’t really sink into it, but it wasn’t terrible.

Note that there are two distinct peaks two peaks in the alpha band as opposed to just one seen in most other subjects.The significance of this is unknown.

Similar results were obtained for the right back sensor (TP10) :

No alpha peak for the non-meditating condition.


Slight alpha peak during zazen meditation.


Small peaks in the alpha band during zazen (after sesshin).


Pair of clear alpha peaks after the February 2017 osesshin.

Eye blinks become less frequent with meditation practice

The Muse headband automatically records eye blinks. Eye blinks were anti-correlated with meditation–that is, the stronger a person’s meditation focus, the less frequently they blink their eyes. Below are the results for the present practitioner, subject S23:

Frequent eye blinking when not meditating.


Less frequent eye blinks when doing zazen (same recording as above).


After the September osesshin, eye blinking is substantially reduced.


After the February osesshin, eye blinking has nearly ceased.

Higher frequency bands develop greater power relative to lower frequency bands with greater meditation experience

Radar charts of relative band power for each of the four recordings suggested that higher frequency bands began to dominate lower frequency bands on successive recordings of meditation, after a week-long osesshin and then again after a second osesshin five months later.

Delta frequency appears to predominate, but this probably due to frequent eye blinking (see spectrogram below).

Higher frequencies (gamma and beta) appear at left front electrode (FP1).

Greater power of beta and gamma in frontal region compared to rear.

Beta and Gamma frequencies predominate.

Frequent blinking masquerades as a delta band signal as can be seen in the correlation between the low frequency patches (below 4 Hz) in yellow-orange of the spectrogram below on which the eye blink signal has been superimposed.

Eye blinks result in registering low-frequency (delta) oscillations so were therefore ignored in the subsequent analysis. See also the post, Sleuthing a delta wave mystery.

To get a better handle on the increase in high frequency oscillations with greater practice, we defined a new parameter which represents the ratio between a stand-in for high frequency (beta power) and a stand-in for low frequency (theta power). Values were normalized to be positive. Results are given below.

Ratio of beta to theta power when not meditating

Ratio of beta to theta power during zazen before first osesshin

Ratio of beta to theta power during zazen after the first osesshin

Ratio of beta to theta power during zazen after the second osesshin five months later

The ratio of beta to theta power seems to support the hypothesis of increasing high frequency oscillations in the frontal area with greater zazen practice.

Jan 272016

With new graphing tools available in the Physiology Viewer 2.0, previous recordings can be reexamined and studied in more detail.

September 10, 2015 was the 5th day of a 7-day sesshin (meditation retreat) at Tahoma Monastery. At the end of the day, after the last round of formal meditation, I recorded my brainwaves, as I did each day of the retreat.

Below is a graph that was derived from an EEG recording of fifteen minutes of meditation. It shows signal power for beta and gamma frequency bands measured at the left front sensor.

absolute power - full session


We note that for a period of about 400 seconds near the beginning, there is a gradual and relatively uniform increase in beta and gamma power. Let us focus on a region of interest, the interval from 50-450 seconds.

We replot the graph for the region of interest and then label two sub-regions, each two minutes long, “first 2 min” and “4 min later”. The purpose of this is simply to have an earlier and a later region to compare.

absolute power - zoomed in

Characteristics of the two intervals can also be compared by examining the two radar charts below.  In these charts, absolute band power for all four sensors is included.


The signal at the left front sensor is of particular interest as it shows a significant increase in beta and gamma power. The Physiology Viewer, shown below provides new ways of examining the data. In particular, a spectrogram and a Power Spectral Density (PSD) graph are part of the suite data visualization tools.

Physiology Viewer 2.0


We have chosen to identify two 120-second intervals with the names “zazen – first 2 min” and “zazen – 4 min later”. Selecting these individual intervals allows us to examine the EEG signal in more detail.

A spectrogram is a graph of frequency vs. time. Frequency is plotted on the vertical axis and time along the x-axis.

We select the Spectrogram for the left front sensor (lf) during the entire session. The result is a frequency vs. time graph where the intensity of each frequency is indicated by color. Here, yellow indicates greater intensity than blue. The associated color bar serves as a legend.


Note that during the “first 2 min” interval, there is less yellow in the frequency range from 12-50Hz (and hence, less power in the beta and gamma bands) than there is during the “4 min later” interval.

In addition, a horizontal yellow band runs through the entire session at a frequency value of about 8 Hz. This is in the alpha band. It will be readily apparent when we view these data using PSD graphs.

Note: Regarding the ‘vertical bands’ in the spectrogram, see a later post, Correlations of brain waves with respiration cycle.

Power Spectral Density (PSD) Graph

The PSD graph displays a spectrum of the signal. Frequency (Hz) is plotted on the horizontal axis and intensity of the signal (dB/Hz) on the vertical axis. The graphs below show the spectral composition of the two selected intervals with frequency bands indicated in color.

PSD - first 2 min

PSD - 4 min later

We see clearly how the beta and gamma intensity have increased over the course of a few minutes. While there are several peaks in the beta and gamma bands, it is unclear at this time whether a given peak is characteristic of an individual over a long time, as the alpha peak seems to be, or whether different individuals display commonly identifiable peaks.